One-On-One With Dwane Casey - Part Two

Before the start of training camp, Jay Satur of sat down with the new members of the Raptors' coaching staff to discuss an unusual start to the 2011-12 season and their plans for getting started in Toronto. Here's part two of his interview with Dwane Casey, where the new head coach looks back on his time in Japan, zeroes in the Raptors' defensive issues and talks first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. You can read part one of the discussion here...

Jay Satur: How would you describe your experience in Japan?

DC: It's a funny story. When I was coaching at Kentucky -- I was a grad assistant and I just got through playing and we won the NCAA Championship in 1978, so I stayed after I got through playing -- we had Japan’s national team coach Mototaka Kohama come to Lexington to spend the year and study basketball. He and I became great friends, so we hung out together. He didn't speak English and I didn't speak Japanese, so every time we had to converse with each other you had to open a book and go through words. But we became great friends and then after I left Kentucky in 1988 he called in the middle of the night saying “Coach Casey, we're starting a new team in the Japanese pro league. Would you like to come over and work with the men's and women's teams and also work with the national teams?” The contract was very favourable and I didn't have anything else to do, so I took the job.

Coach Pete Newell had worked with their men’s team when they went to the Olympics in 1964, so he was an icon in Japan. Coach Newell was kind of getting up in age then and I was the young buck coming in, kind of a transition. So I got to meet him, study with him, travel through all the cities of Japan with the national team and it was not only great as a learning experience, we spend like a month at a time with each other in the summer, but just experiencing the culture of Japan. The history of the country, how old it is, the traditions, their loyalty to a teacher or coach. It was a great experience for me because I could immerse into a different culture with basketball, so I learned a lot in the two-and-a-half to three years I was there. We ended up taking the team to the World Games, I think it was in 1996, in Athens. We finished 15th or 16th and that doesn't sound like much to us as Olympic watchers of U.S. teams, but the Japanese team hadn't been to the World Games since Coach Newell was with them in 1964.

Every summer I still go there and help different summer camps with different teams and different coaching clinics. That's something I do every year just to give back to Japan and try to help them. All those guys I used to coach on the National Team are now general managers and coaches. That really makes you feel good when guys are using some of your terminology and some of your plays in a different country.

JS: At your introductory news conference you mentioned your desire to establish a defensive identity for this team. You've now seen a lot of tape, so what are some of those habits you want to change?

DC: I've seen them all. I know them all. I see them in my dreams. So I know exactly the approach we're going to take. We're going to have a strong defensive approach. With our first couple of days of camp, even with an abbreviated camp, it's going to be attention to detail on the defensive end and guys probably won't even touch the ball or think about offence. It's going to be a grind-it-out type of camp but with that said, I don't want to lose the sharpness and some of the positives we had on the offensive end. We can't lose sight of that and we've got to take advantage of a great offensive player like Andrea Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa or DeMar DeRozan. We've got to take advantage of those strengths that those guys have and again, start it out by attacking on the defensive end.

Like I told most of the players before the lockout, when you're 30th in anything, that's not good. That's our challenge, that's our goal and that's what we're going to do. It's not our goal, it's going to be our mission, that's the word I want to use because a goal is something you hope to attain. We're going to get better defensively but again, we don't want to lose that edge that we do have on the offensive end.

JS: You've mentioned a desire to strip it down to the basics on defence. How challenging will that be with a late start and short camp?

DC: That's the challenge with the shortened camp because normally you'd spend a longer period of time on your weaknesses. But in this situation, where it's probably going to be a three-day, maybe four-day camp -- I'm assuming just going on what happened in '98 -- how much can we do it without killing our offensive approach? But believe me, we're going to do something defensively every day. We can't afford not to. It makes things complicated but it doesn't make things impossible. Whether it's shootaround or practice, there will be a defensive emphasis that we will accomplish that day.

We want to build a foundation. If you screw up on the foundation when you're building a house, any storm or any little trouble and the house is going to fall down when you first walk in. So we want to make sure that even though things may be rocky offensively early, we've got our foundation set, which is going to be our defence.

JS: Switching to offence for a minute, you’ve said you want a “free-flowing” offence this season. Can you expand on that?

DC: The NBA now is so sophisticated and so well scouted that I've found -- and the only way I can describe it is where I was previously in Dallas -- that it's much easier to score when you have different weapons and things are random, but there's a method to the madness.

Random pick-and-rolls and random pass-and-cut. It’s about ball movement more so than coming up and calling a set play every time down the floor. Now will we have set plays? Yes. But when we don't have anything, when we push the ball down the floor, we want to flow into our random play. It makes it more difficult for defensive teams to get set, to set on your play, to sit in our offensive players' laps and play their tendencies. But all at once something happens that's random that hasn't been scouted, but that’s within our system. We're going to be organized with it, but it can't be scouted because it’s in the flow of play. Maybe it’s pick-and-rolls, maybe it’s pin downs, but it will be something with the ball going side-to-side with ball movement.

JS: This team has some roster spots open. Have you and Bryan Colangelo discussed what type of personnel you need in order to see your system work properly?

DC: That's what we've been doing. Evaluating the roster, free agents that we're looking at and possible trade scenarios. We've been proactive as far as looking at those situations and trying to evaluate what our needs are. I don't want to go into specific names, but there's some interesting names that we're looking at and that's one thing about Bryan and his track record, anything he can do to help the team get better, he's willing to do and the organization's willing to do.

JS: OK, so no specific names, but what would you like to add to this roster right now? A centre and a veteran presence seem like obvious needs.

DC: I would say those two things. Leadership and rim protection is huge. Veteran leadership that's going to set the tone defensively and in the locker room. That player will bring a degree of professionalism, because again, we're a young team. The one thing I want to do is change the culture to a defensive mentality and that's uncomfortable sometimes, so we probably will need a veteran to come in and help change that culture to that defensive mentality. You do need that leadership, but we need someone who still can play. You don't want someone to come in and just be a veteran. We want someone to contribute on the court and in the locker room and give us that type of presence within our organization.

JS: You mentioned traveling to Lithuania this summer to check out some of your new players at EuroBasket. One of those was first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. What did you see that you liked and what does he need to work on in the year ahead?

DC: Jonas has had a whirlwind summer and he's just 19. He played in the 19-and-under tournament and they won that. Then he goes right to the Senior National Team at EuroBasket, they finish -- in their minds -- a disappointing fifth in their home country. So that was disappointing for the program and for him because he had played well with them. Then he turns around and has to play for his professional team in Vilnius and then they don't make the EuroLeague, they make the EuroCup. He's had to compete in three pressure situations right in his own country with the spotlight being bright on him, which is a good thing. It helps him grow up a little bit.

But he does so many positive things. He plays hard, he has a quick motor in terms of rolling to the basket and running the floor defensively. He definitely had an offensive presence that I was really impressed with. Now our key as a coaching staff is translating that from a European league to the NBA game, which is going to take time and we've got to be patient with him. But I'm really impressed with his skill level, what he brings to the table as far as hard play, running the floor, blocking shots and just his energy level.

He's not a typical big man that's a plodder, he's athletic for his size, which is going to help him transition to the NBA a lot quicker.

JS: Jonas' club team Lietuvos Rytas is coached by Alexander Dzikic, one of your former assistants in Minnesota. What's the level of communication going to be like between the two of you?

DC: I plan on saying staying in touch with Alex. They're using the same terminology and some of the same offensive sets that we used and are going to use here, so that's going to help. Alex is going to help him with his English and try to get Jonas ready and let him know what NBA culture is about, so that will help the transition be a little bit quicker. He’ll tell him some of the things he can or can't do and just prepare him for being in an NBA setting. That's a big plus for us to have him there as his coach. He's got a job to do, which is try to win for his team, but on the other hand he's going to try to help Jonas as much as he possibly can.